interview Patrik Andrén

Patrik Andrén is a Swedish composer known for his collaborations with Johan Söderqvist and Uno Helmersson on the series Bron (The Bridge) and films such as Kvinden I Buret (The Keeper of Lost Causes) and Fasandraeberne (The Absent One). In recent days, the videogame Battlefield 1 was released on 21st of October, scored by both Andrén and Söderqvist.

MT: Can you tell us something about your musical background?

I have always had a passion for music. I started playing the piano from an early age. My father was a jazz pianist and so was his father. So my choice of instrument became easy. I also played the drums and mallets as a teenager. This never became a principal instrument, but learning about rhythms has been a great asset later in life, especially in film music.

Then at the age of 19 I took the leap across the Atlantic to Boston where I attended Berklee College of Music. A fantastic school! At first, I went there to become a jazz pianist, but changed to film scoring that I studied for four years.

I stayed six years in Boston before I moved back to Stockholm, Sweden. I will not go into every detail, but I did a bunch of different things for a while. I got into pop, I worked as a producer, while gigging and touring. I covered most genres and styles and it was a straggly time for me. The fact that I tried to do so many different things led up to the point where I got fed up and wanted to focus more on one thing; film scoring.

So I contacted Johan Söderqvist and I started assisting him on his films. As the most established film composer in Sweden Johan guided me kindly into a better understanding of film. This mentorship was a pivot time for me for sure and all of a sudden my straggly background of styles became really useful.

MT: How did this affect your lifestyle? Did you have to make changes in your life?

After working with Johan a few years I realized I had to cut down on things such as gigging and also socialising. What I didn't want to cut down on was being with my family and at the same time I did want to pursue the dream of being a film composer. So we moved to the south of Sweden, away from Stockholm where it all happens, to a house by the sea where I built a film scoring studio. This was a nervous move, but it turned out to be the best thing to do. Now I can work day and night if needed and can still be around my wife and kids. I think it's an issue for many composers to get enough time, but since we live in the time of internet it is easy to communicate. I communicate daily via Skype or FaceTime, either with Johan or with clients, and send files back and forth. It really works perfectly.

MT: You were a rhythm arranger on several of Johan's scores such as Kongen av Bastøy and Jägarna 2. What does a rhythm arranger do in context of such scores?

Yes, since I had experience and interest in rhythms it became natural to me to record and program the percussion for those films. I was also part of the rhythmical language for another one of Johan's great scores called In a Better World, which won an Oscar for best foreign film 2011 and was directed by Susanne Bier. It was a great opportunity and also "a way in" for me I would say. When working with film it's a lot about responsibility and earning the trust in certain areas. The first trust I "earned" was as a rhythm arranger.

MT: You have been credited with contributing additional music to some scores by Johan. How much effort goes into that as opposed to co-writing the full score? 

Johan and I have a great working relationship and we sometimes compose together. It all depends on the project. On some films I am more of a sidekick and on some films we share the composer's credit. When being a composer (i.e. Battlefield 1) you have to deal with more stuff; clients, directors, producers and pressure of course. But the music making is pretty much the same.

Just to mention a little bit about our process we use kind of a "funnel method", by which we make sounds and sketches in abundance. We record and investigate sounds and almost scientifically distill them down to the appropriate palette for the film. This method is very time consuming, but of great help when you write a lot of music like you always end up doing. It is also good for maintaining inspiration and the vision all through the process. And when you have a defined universe it takes away some of the fears and pressure.

Bron (The Bridge)

MT: The first season of Bron marked your first collaboration with Johan and Uno as a composer's trio. Since you were all familiar with one another, it must have been like writing as symbiotic whole. How different was this from previous projects you worked on with Johan and Uno?

Yes, we did have a great workflow from working on earlier projects. The blend of the three of us turned out to be a perfect match for The Bridge. Not all projects would benefit from that, but in this particular case I think the blend of our various personalities really works. The conceptual director Charlotte Sieling wanted something slightly odd and skew to reflect the main character Saga. She also gave us a 'non-generic' warning, we could write pretty much anything as long as it didn't sound like the typical generic thriller score. A dream for every film composer I think.

This is not really a listening-friendly score I would say and much of the score's aesthetics are about how the music is put to the picture. Having music come in 'wrong', holding notes a little too long and going from fast, almost cartoonish sounding music to be suddenly interrupted by a still ambience, has become part of the expression and also adding to the skewness.

MT: The first season of The Bridge featured several brief vocal appearances, that re-appeared in the second season and I really felt it came to bloom in the final episode. What can you tell me about such a evolutionary process?

When using voice in an electric score like this is, it creates a contrast and gives a sense of something bigger, maybe a "god's perspective". In the first season we used the theme when a kid dies in a hospital; a strong emotional scene. In the 2nd season we use it a few times and, as you say ,in the final episode it came to bloom as a longer version combined with another theme of that season. The waltzy piano theme is another theme that is sparsely used, but when it appears it has strong emotional impact (i.e. the final scene of 1st season when Martin realizes what happened to his son).

MT: All three seasons share a similar musical DNA, but how would you describe each in terms of differences? 

That is a very good question. We have done 3 seasons now and it can be tempting at times to write something totally different. But I think the DNA as you put it, is strong and rooted in The Bridge. Johan, Uno and I usually can tell when something is not "Bridge-like" sounding. Henrik Georgsson, who worked on season 1 and has been the principle director of seasons 2 & 3, has supported us greatly at maintaining the artistic intention and feel of the series.

Having said that, we normally write about 100 new songs/sketches for each season (the funnel method). Just to be fully loaded when the heat hits us. And we develop the music dramatically for each episode. We always tailor the songs to fit the scenes, even the resumés. One difference that comes to mind is that in the first season we established the 2 note main theme. Then in second season we used a three note theme and of course in the third season we just had to have a four note theme, just as curiosa. See if you can hear it.

Department Q series

MT: You, Johan and Uno composed the music to the first two Department Q films called (Kvinden I buret (The Keeper of Lost Causes) and Fasandraeberne (The Absent One). Can you tell me something about the musical approach to these films?

Yes, these are two great films by director Mikkel Nörgaard. These are the first two films in the series of crime novels by author Jussi Adler-Olsen where we get to follow the police duo Carl Mörck and Assad. The scores have more of an orchestral character.

Not getting too technical about the scores, we did the first one The Keeper of Lost Causes very serious and dark sounding with colors of dark brass and metal. In the second film The Absent One we hoped to be able to keep the same music and just adapt it. But after banging our heads we ended up writing completely new music. A typical example of when you think something will be easy and instead it jumps up and bites you and you end up working much harder.

MT: The third film of the trilogy, Flaskepost fra P (A Conspiracy of Faith), was scored by Nicklas Schmidt. What was the reason you guys didn't compose the music?

It was colliding with other projects, that's all. There were too many other projects that had to be done at the same time unfortunately.

MT: What do you think explains the success of numerous of Scandinavian crime films and series?

That's an interesting question. I don't know to be honest. Maybe it's a trend. I mean the villains have been to most places in the world already. Now it's time for Scandinavia. I do think Stieg Larsson's Millennium Trilogy has a big part in it too. It was such a worldwide success reflecting the polished Swedish lifestyle and a dark, perverted underworld.

Battlefield 1

MT: The videogame Battefield 1 was released on 21st of October for PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One. A digital release of the score was made aivailbale on the 28st of october. It marks your first work written for an interactive world, which must have been very exciting. How is that different to scoring a film or a series?

Battlefield was a great project to work on, but also a huge one. Much bigger than we anticipated. Just the way the game is structured is a lot different to film. The non-linear timeline was hard to grasp at first i.e. multi-player mode, and the balance between more functional music and the emotional dramatic sequences were challenging. In the single-player campaign we felt more at home with a linear narrative, but here you also don't have perfect control of where music goes in and out. So stuff like that was challenging at first.

But overall, I think it was a good thing to be inexperienced in the gaming world. Neither me or Johan have much of a gaming background and that made us go in with an open mind and learn all this from the ground. It's actually a good starting point to always reset yourself and remain humble in the process. It makes you insecure in a positive way.

MT: How did you and Johan got attached to this project?

Bence Pajor, the audio producer at Dice, asked if we wanted to consider this. Bence was also part of the whole musical vision and supported us greatly during the process.

MT: Did the score need anything that musically reflected the period of the first World War?

No, not really. From the beginning we had a strong vision and dream to make an emotional score and convey the emotional hell, devastation and sorrow of the war, rather than making "cool" music. War is brutal and we wanted people to feel something. Of course we pay tribute to the long series of Battlefield traditions by the use of the classic BF theme. But this time played much slower than the original.

MT: Do you have any idea how the music has been received so far? Did you succeed in you vision?

The reviews and comments has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Of course the reactions of the music go hand in hand with the success of the game and the fact that there is a community of more than 30 million followers helps a lot. But it could just as well go the other way if the game wasn't the success it has become or they didn't like the music. But yeah, people really care about the music and that is great.

MT: Some composers don't get to play the game before completing the score and will have the opportunity when the entire product is finished. How was that in your case?

Still haven't played it. I have watched people play it numerous times of course and we used capture-movie clips when working on the game. My son wants me to get a PS4, but I am afraid I will like it too much.

MT: How much music was written for the game?

We were contracted to write a number of minutes and ended up writing ten times more! That's how big it got. The "funnel method" also came in handy when you needed such amount of music. We got involved early in the process, but not until the last months, or in some cases even days, the animations came to life. Suddenly faces and expressions appeared and stories got meaning. We then wrote and adapted a lot of music while being under great stress.

MT: Can you tell something about the use of ethnic elements in the score?

The WWI was a lot more than the trench battles in Germany and France. It was a World War and Dice shows us that in the game very delicately by taking us to locations where the war was prominent. We get to play a woman fighter in the army of T.E. Lawrence, also know as Lawrence of Arabia, when fighting the Ottomans. For this episode we recorded local musicians from Kurdistan i.e. ney flute, oud and percussion. We also use a singer called Shamiran Said who comes from Kurdistan, but actually lives in Stockholm. She sings beautifully on some of the songs.

MT: What are your plans for the future?

We have a few game updates for Battlefield coming up during 2017. And I am also looking forward to another season of The Bridge. Some films are in the pipeline too, but my biggest plan is to stay healthy and happy. I have been free from work for a month now, which rarely happens and it does things to your brain… so Work out and eat well! And get some more sleep!

Patrik Andrén Battlefield 1 The Absent One The Keeper of Lost Causes Bron / Broen (The Bridge)